New storytelling techniques

Now that you’ve explored two traditional narrative structures, let’s look at two more modern storytelling methods: the Pixar storytelling method and Nancy Duarte’s Sparklines.

Montage of people in the workplace.

“What you’re trying to do, when you tell a story, is to write about an event in your life that made you feel some particular way. And what you’re trying to do, when you tell a story, is to get the audience to have that same feeling.” – Pete Docter, Film Director at Pixar Animation Studios.

Pixar storytelling

From ‘Finding Nemo’ to ‘Toy Story’, the Pixar storytelling method is what makes their films so remarkable. They know that a good story is based on the characters, emotions and intentions for telling the tale.

Whilst still at Pixar, former storyboard artist Emma Coats shared Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling, which you can find a link to in the See Also section.

The general structure the Pixar story follows is:

  1. Once upon a time, there was…
  2. Every day,…
  3. Then one day,…
  4. Because of that,…
  5. Because of that,…
  6. Until finally,…

This simple outline can be applied to business presentations. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, knew and utilised this in his presentations. Jobs knew that storytelling is the best marketing tool we have at our disposal. His new product showcase demonstrations were always theatrical and narrative led. In fact, they were so gripping that director Danny Boyle decided to use them as the backbone to his film on Steve Jobs in 2015.

Steve Jobs knew that marketing is about telling stories. In the in-line audio file below, Jennifer tells the story of Steve Jobs and Apple using the Pixar structure.

Select the Play button to listen to the audio file.

Pixar structure/Steve Jobs This audio file is 2:57 minutes.

A more accessible PDF version of the audio is available in the Downloads section.

Sparkline storytelling

Nancy Duarte is a well-regarded communications specialist who created Sparkline, a narrative device that delivers a compelling presentation through the use of contrast. She developed this model by assessing the greatest speeches given in human history, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I have a dream’ to ‘The Gettysburg Address’.

All of these speeches fell into the structure of ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ which Nancy refers to as Sparklines. Throughout the story, the audience alternates between seeing what is and what could be, until reaching the ‘new bliss’ at the end. You can see a visual representation of Sparklines by following the link in the See Also section.

This contrast is a very compelling and dynamic method to engage an audience. For example, in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic speech, ‘I have a dream’, he alternates between describing the horrors African Americans have experienced juxtaposed with his dream of what the future could be.

His speech encourages the listener to believe that hope is possible. It inspires people towards hope not only using contrast, but also metaphors, language and repetition throughout to evoke emotion and reinforce his message. He was able to evangelise and lead a movement simply from his content and delivery with no evidence that it would work. This is the power of impactful communication and the power of the Sparklines device. You can watch Dr. King’s speech using the link provided in the See Also section.

Within the business setting, a great example of the Sparklines method being effectively used is Elon Musk’s keynote on ‘The Tesla Powerwall’. This speech demonstrates that the key to presenting a new idea is to express how and why your solution could make the situation better. You can find a link to the video of the keynote in the See Also section.

In the in-line audio file below, Jennifer uses the Sparklines structure to give a short speech on climate change. Listen to how it highlights the galvanizing quality of a Sparklines presentation..’

Select the Play button to listen to the audio file.

Sparklines structure This audio file is 2:00 minutes.

A more accessible PDF version of the audio is available in the Downloads section.

Further your understanding

You can watch Dr King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech and hear Nancy’s analysis of it by following the links in the See Also section. You can also find a link to Elon Musk’s ‘The Tesla Powerwall’ speech.

In the next step, you can discuss your thoughts on all four narrative structures you’ve learned about.

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This article is from the free online course:

Presenting Your Work with Impact

University of Leeds